Pneumonia spreads as winter deaths top 800

Over 170,000 patients with pneumonia and other acute respiratory infections have been diagnosed and treated at health centres across Afghanistan in the past month, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has reported.

At least 100 pneumonia patients, most of them children, died in the same period, Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for MoPH, told IRIN on 14 February.

Among the victims were seven children in Badakhshan Province, northeastern Afghanistan, where a medical team from the UK charity Merlin treated 270 pneumonia patients on 30 January.

On arrival in snow-covered Shar-e-Buzorg District of Badakhshan the team was “soon overwhelmed by people seeking help while some were lying in the snow”, according to Sophia Craig, head of Merlin in Afghanistan.

Officials are also concerned about the spread of winter diseases in Ghor, Daykundi, and Nooristan provinces where many food-insecure communities live in rugged and inaccessible areas.

“Many people are susceptible to pneumonia and acute respiratory infections due to food-insecurity, prevalent lack of awareness about diseases, and hygienic problems,” Craig said.

Harshest winter in 25 years

Parts of Afghanistan are facing their harshest winter in 25 years, and over 800 people have lost their lives, according to Afghanistan’s National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA).

About 91 people have also had their limbs amputated because of frostbite, health officials in Herat Province, western Afghanistan, reported.

Over 730 houses have been destroyed and 316,055 livestock have died in the wintry conditions.

Afghanistan is still under the national public health emergency declared on 8 January, and about 30,000 health workers and 19,000 volunteers have been asked not to go on leave and/or travel abroad until the emergency is over, the MoPH’s Fahim said.

Officials say tens of thousands of vulnerable people across the country have been provided with medical care and treatment, and many lives have been saved.

“We have adequate medication and staff, but our major challenge is accessibility,” said Fahim, adding that the MoPH had asked the NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Badakhshan for air support to deploy medical teams to some inaccessible areas.

Heavy snow has blocked roads in several of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, making humanitarian access virtually impossible, but Sophia Craig of Merlin praised the MoPH’s response as “very good”.